Sunday, May 4, 2014

My Wife Might Love Step Brothers, But I'm More Ambivalent To It!

The Good: Funny, truly, absurdly funny.
The Bad: Predictable, Mediocre (or unsurprising) acting
The Basics: Ultimately average-at-best, Step Brothers is more a predictable Will Ferrell movie than a surprising one.

My wife and I, fortunately enough, still have plenty that differentiates us from one another. Among her many loves - which I do not share - are mushrooms, loud music and the movies of Will Ferrell. I have nothing against Will Ferrell, I reviewed The Other Guys (available here!) earlier. But I do have an appreciation for the acting talents of John C. Reilly. So, when I picked up Step Brothers for my wife as her final DVD (we're on Blu-Ray now!), having heard her rave about it for the entire first year of our knowing one another, I figured I was in for a fifty-fifty split. Having seen the movie with her now, I'm still there.

Step Brothers follows in a pretty long tradition of movies where adults act like children and it reunites Ferrell with Reilly along with the director who put them together in Talladega Nights. And while Reilly does a decent job playing the manchild, in this case, Dale, Ferrell's character Brennan is very much what one expects from Ferrell in this type comedy. In fact, the most severe problem with Step Brothers is that it is only what one expects from a Will Ferrell comedy.

Brennan is a middle-aged guy living with his mother, just as Dale lives with his father following the death of his mother. Robert, Dale's father, meets Nancy, Brennan's mother, while on a business trip and the two hit it off immediately. In fact, they marry exceptionally quickly and Nancy and Brennan move in with Robert and Dale. While the newlyweds do their thing, Brennan and Dale square off and Dale exerts his dominance, by threatening Brennan and warning him about such things as touching his drum set. But when Dale takes on Brennan's successful young brother, Brennan changes his mind about Dale.

At that point, the two begin to work together to have fun and make the best of their time together. They create a company, based upon having a great name for an entertainment conglomerate ("Prestige Worldwide") and they plan to turn their lives around. But it is at that point that Robert and Nancy decide to move out and sell the house, forcing Dale and Brennan to get real jobs. Failing to do that, violence breaks out and Robert decides he cannot live this way any longer and the family falls apart, pitting Dale and Brennan at one another's throats again.

This is, in many ways, a formulaic comedy that only seems fresh for moments because the movie takes time to create characters who have such a grasp on absurdist humor that one cannot help but laugh at their antics. For sure, the viewer does not so much care about what happens to Dale or Brennan, but we laugh at them as they do their things, especially in such scenes as the sleepwalking destruction scene. It is so over-the-top crazy that it has the freshness of being funny and wonderful, which is something I seldom see.

But comedic interludes like that which are actually fresh are all that breaks up long stretches of the movie where the comedy is obvious and obviously delivered. Ferrell bugs out his eyes and says something silly in an inappropriately menacing tone, Reilly nods and plays straightman to an over-the-top sexual advance from Brennan's brother's wife and the viewer is unsurprised. These performances and jokes fall within the range of comedic actors of their caliber and, sadly, do not hold up so well over multiple viewings. Instead, once the initial shock of the awkward situations that most of the movie is preoccupied with, the movie sags.

The only real surprise for me is how Adam McCay got Richard Jenkins to do Step Brothers. Jenkins plays Robert and he is largely the straightman of the film. No matter how absurd Reilly's Dale or Ferrell's Brennan are, Jenkins keeps Robert real, rational and adult. But that is why the character of Robert fails to work. He is so much the by-product of reality that it does not seem realistic at all that he would have allowed Dale to develop as such a stunted individual. Jenkins gives a wonderful performance, though, especially when Robert snaps and actually disciplines the adult children. But even the quality of Jenkins' performance cannot forgive the fact that the character makes little sense.

Everyone else in the film is startlingly average, from Ferrell - whose performance is so familiar to anyone who has seen any of the other films Ferrell has done in the last five years - to Mary Steenburgen (who has appeared in plenty of lemons as essentially this same character) to Kathryn Hahn whose performance is one joke repeated over and over again. None of the performers or their performances surprised me or even interested me enough to think that I might like to see them in anything else.

On the two-disc special edition, there are plenty of bonus features for those who love gag-reel type humor. In addition to a commentary track which has Ferrell, Reilly, McCay and others actually making verbal humor over the movie, there are deleted and extended scenes and a gag reel. The extended scenes continue onto the second disc with featurettes such as the full video presentation from Prestige Worldwide (it is panned off of in the actual film) and featurettes on the music and the two main characters. Most of these are funny in the same way the movie is funny, so those who like the movie will tend to like the features and those who do not will not.

For me, I am glad I saw the movie once, but after that, it has been a tough sell and never captivated my interest the same way. While my partner laughs at jokes she remembers from it or quotes lines occasionally, it just didn't resonate with me. In fact, I'd bet it resonates more with the inner child in most adult viewers than any rational being and I have a tough time turning the rational off.

For other comedies, please check out my reviews of:
Hot Tub Time Machine
Year One
Planet 51


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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